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Birthday plans in Paris washed out

sports Updated: Jun 01, 2009 23:50 IST

For the last four years Rafael Nadal has enjoyed the same birthday present — a glittering French Open crown.

This year, though, when he wakes up on Wednesday to celebrate his 23rd birthday, for once not in a Paris hotel bed, the Spaniard will be nursing his ego, scratching his head and still wondering what went wrong.

So is the rest of the sporting world.

This was not meant to happen. Never before beaten at the citadel of claycourt tennis, Nadal fell to unassuming Swede Robin Soderling in one of the biggest tennis upsets ever.

Was it tactics? Was it fatigue? Overconfidence, or just one of those things?

“I need to face the fact I didn’t play well this week. When I practised this morning I felt good. I felt very good, but it wasn’t the case during the match,” analysed Nadal after his 6-2 6-7 6-4 7-6 humbling.

Before Sunday, though, there was nothing to suggest he was not playing well.

When Nadal flattened former world number one Lleyton Hewitt in the third round for the loss of just five games, most thought Soderling would simply turn out to be another sitting duck on the Mallorcan’s unstoppable charge towards a record fifth consecutive Roland Garros title.

But Soderling had other ideas.

He paid scant regard to the fact that in his 31 previous encounters in Roland Garros, Nadal had never been defeated.